Cheap Hiking Boots
- Published on
- By Raechel Conover
Perhaps the most essential piece of equipment for getting up close and personal with the great outdoors is the right footwear. Few things will do more to dampen the pleasure of a hike than bad boots. Fortunately for hikers on a budget, the best cheap hiking boots provide the support and protection to make a peaceful stroll or vigorous trek enjoyable and rewarding. There's no one dominant brand in cheap hiking boots, but some of the better-known names include Merrell, Keen, Columbia, L.L. Bean, and The North Face. We compared footwear from these and other brands, looking for several important features and favorable reviews from consumers and experts.
Cheap Hiking Boots Buying Guide
The best cheap hiking boot we found was the Merrell Moab Ventilator (starting at $75), which reviewers widely consider comfortable, supportive, and lightweight. It features a breathable mesh upper for ventilation, making it ideal for summer hikes and generally hot climates. Two other top hiking shoes for consumers on a budget are the Keen Alamosa WP (starting at $72) and the Salomon Synapse (starting at $60). The latter is designed for fast hiking and light trail running, with special heel cushioning, a protective toecap, and a unique shape that allows the foot to roll through each stride. The Keen Alamosa WP is waterproof yet breathable and features multi-directional lugs, or treads, for superior traction.
The terms hiking boots and hiking shoes are often used interchangeably, and for the purposes of this buying guide, we're bowing to common usage and employing "hiking boots" generically. Technically, though, most of our picks -- and most pairs under $100 -- are hiking shoes, a.k.a. light hiking boots. They are best suited for day hikes on easy to moderate terrain, when you're planning to carry only a light bag or backpack. Top hiking shoes generally have the advantage of being lightweight, making them an increasingly popular alternative to heavy hiking boots. Many are also highly breathable, but the tradeoff is they may not be waterproof.
Between $100 and $200 you'll find traditional hiking boots, which tend to be sturdier than hiking shoes and come up higher around the ankle to increase stability. They're designed for steeper inclines, rockier terrain, and muddier paths. They're also built to wear on consecutive days during hikes of up to a week. While the good ones typically fall outside our range, we did find one pair of mid-cut boots worth recommending: L.L. Bean's Waterproof Trail Model Hikers (starting at $90). It's also worth shopping around online, as prices can vary drastically. For example, the very well reviewed Keen Targhee II Mid carries a retail price of $130, but certain sizes and colors start as low as $50 on Amazon. Nevados makes quite a few cheap hiking boots, such as the Boomerang II (starting at $40), and some reviewers find them just fine for the price. However, many seem to have bought them for everyday wear, rather than hiking, and we saw a pattern of complaints about poor quality, paper-thin soles, and waterproofing that doesn't work, leading us to question value of the brand as a whole.
At the top end of the market, you'll find expensive off-trail or mountaineering boots. These are designed for more experienced hikers who plan to tackle extreme terrain for days at a time, perhaps in freezing weather, while carrying a heavy backpack. Such rugged boots lie far outside the Cheapism niche.
All the cheap hiking boots we recommend are available for both men and women. As you shop, be on the lookout for several essential features. Experts say a top hiking shoe should have a supportive midsole that cushions the foot and helps keep it from flattening out under the weight of a backpack. The best cheap hiking boots are lightweight and highly breathable or moisture resistant, if not waterproof, because moisture inside the shoe can cause blisters. Traction comes in the form of lugs on the bottom of the boot, a.k.a. the outsole, and provides stable and secure footing, particularly in slippery and rough conditions.
Hiking Boots Reviews
Consumers and outdoor gear experts are enthusiastic about the quality and overall performance of our choices for the best cheap hiking shoes and boots. Our picks more than hold their own when it comes to comfort, support, moisture resistance, and traction, according to hiking boots reviews.
Fit and Comfort.Experts agree: Don't compromise comfort for a cheap price on hiking shoes. According to gear specialists at the outdoor store REI, fit is the single most important factor here. If a boot doesn't fit correctly, it won't be comfortable for even the shortest hikes. Because every foot is different, a boot that fits one hiker well may give another blisters. Ideally you should try on and walk around in as many pairs as it takes to land on the best cheap hiking shoes for you, although many boot brands and retailers offer sizing tips on their websites. Keen, for example, suggests that shoppers should order a half size bigger than they normally would in the Targhee II Mid (starting at $50 for a limited selection of colors and sizes) and REI notes that Keen boots typically suit people with wide feet. Many consumers who have posted hiking boots reviews on Altrec.com found the Targhee II Mid comfortable straight out of the box. Both men and women note the roomy toe.
In hiking boots reviews on Backcountry.com, consumers report that our pick for the best cheap hiking shoe, the Merrell Moab Ventilator (starting at $72), likewise requires zero breaking in. Several women with foot issues ranging from bunions to flat feet say they've tried numerous hiking shoes and found these the most comfortable. Reviewers on Amazon report the same level of comfort in the men's version, saying they sustain hours of wear with superior arch support and ventilation.
Hiking boot reviews posted on the L.L. Bean website say the men's mid-cut Waterproof Trail Model Hikers (starting at $90) provide superior support and a perfect fit right from the get-go. Many appreciate that they come in wide (EE) sizes, although some still find them too narrow. Reviews of the women's version are similarly positive overall, although some customers recommend buying a size up and allowing time to break the boots in before an actual hike. A few hiking boot reviews on Backcountry.com report that the men's Keen Alamosa WP (starting at $72) may also need some breaking in but loosens up after a hike or two and turns out to be very comfortable. The retailer recommends trying a half size larger than usual. According to reviews like this one on Amazon, the women's Salomon Synapse (starting at $60) is instantly comfortable and lacks the stiffness that often characterizes cheap hiking footwear. There's also plenty of room for the toes.
Insole/Midsole and Support.Ankle and arch support is essential out on the trail -- the cost of twisting an ankle or stressing your muscles can be severe pain and significant inconvenience. The midsole, foot bed, or insole of the shoe, where the bottom of your foot rests, helps even out weight and keep you steady. Its shape should mirror the shape of your foot to ensure balance and stability. All the best cheap hiking shoes on our list feature compression-molded EVA midsoles. EVA, or ethylene vinyl acetate, is known for being light and cushy. On some hiking boots the insole comes out, and many consumer reviewers choose to replace it with one that better suits their feet or offers more support.
Reviewers on Altrec.com report that the women's Merrell Moab Ventilator provides excellent cushioning, arch support, and stability on rough hikes. As for the men's version, one consumer who posted a review on Backcountry.com appreciates that these hiking shoes offer good support and enough motion control to prevent his tendency to overpronate. Both Keen shoes we researched garner positive reviews for their excellent support. One consumer commenting on the Keen Targhee II Mid at Gander Mountain applauds the women's boots for providing superb arch support eight hours a day for three months straight over 1,400 miles. The Salomon Synapse receives high praise for support from several wearers commenting on Backcountry.com. One reviewer who says he stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 pounds has found that this shoe provides an ideal combination of support and flexibility for walking, hiking, and light trail running. The midsole is designed specifically for the latter, with a higher heel drop that slopes toward the toe. The mid-cut L.L. Bean Waterproof Trail Model Hikers II earn a nod of approval from Good Housekeeping, which tested eight women's boots and found these the most supportive.
Most reviewers commenting on the men's Nevados Boomerang Lo (starting at $40) on Amazon find the boot comfortable at first, but some report that the sole is flimsy and wears out fast. One buyer says you might as well be wearing rubber flip-flops, for all the support and shock absorption these boots provide. Other Nevados brand shoes receive similarly harsh criticism in hiking boots reviews.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
Moisture Resistance and Breathability.
Whether water leaks in from the outside or sweat builds up on the inside, moisture can spoil a hike. It degrades shoes, irritates feet, and causes painful blisters. Experts recommend looking for a combination of fabric mesh, to let the interior of your boots "breathe," and leather, for durability and protection from water and debris. Hiking boots that incorporate a waterproof lining may be the most effective at shielding feet from rain and puddles, but such membranes aren't as breathable as ventilating mesh, especially on low-end boots, so they may leave feet hot and sweaty. Even if you opt for waterproof hiking boots, experts suggest treating the leather with a waterproofing spray, cream, or oil. This is intended not to bolster the water resistance but to help preserve the leather, so the boots last longer. Check with the vendor to see if the boots you choose can take this treatment. Another piece of advice: Wear socks that wick away moisture. Prices for these accessories start at about $10 a pair, but some hikers allege they make all the difference.
The light hiking boots we researched deal with the moisture issue in a variety of ways. Our top choice, the Merrell Moab Ventilator, is not a waterproof hiking shoe, but many reviewers have found that it effectively deals with moisture. Outdoor Gear Lab, which named the women's version a best buy, explains that even waterproof hiking boots don't always keep water out, so many hikers prefer a shoe that's exceptionally breathable and will dry quickly if it gets wet, rather than trapping moisture inside. The leather and mesh upper on the Merrell Moab Ventilator is reportedly so breathable that it feels like open-window ventilation. In general this shoe works best for warm climates and summer hikes on sunny days. Hikers accustomed to cold, wet weather should consider other options. The Keen Alamosa WP, for instance, is a waterproof hiking shoe constructed from durable, water-resistant nubuck leather (a suede-like material) and fabric, combined with a breathable waterproof membrane. User reviews on Zappos laud the Alamosa WP for remaining waterproof all day in pouring rain, yet still managing to let feet breathe -- a feat not all cheap waterproof hiking shoes can pull off. The Keen Targhee II Mid waterproof hiking boots have a similar composition.
The L.L. Bean Waterproof Trail Model Hikers II have received an editors' choice award from Backpacker magazine, where testers express surprise that budget boots can so reliably keep feet dry. They chalk this up to the combination of a waterproof/breathable lining and well-designed tongue gussets. The Salomon Synapse is not a waterproof or even water-resistant hiking shoe, but it's constructed from breathable materials designed to whisk moisture away from the foot and allow for quick drying. A blogger at Utah Outside vouches for the breathability and points out that the design suits the state's dry climate. In wetter weather, he says, the solution is simple: an extra pair of socks.
Light Hiking Boots.When shopping for a pair of hiking boots, pay attention to how heavy they are. The conventional wisdom is that one pound on your feet feels like five pounds on your back, so generally lighter hiking boots are better. L.L. Bean reminds customers that today's technology can provide a solid foundation with a much lighter weight. The heavy metal shanks in hiking boots of yore have been retired without sacrificing any support.
The exact weight of each shoe typically isn't listed and varies by size and gender, so we relied on reviews to point us toward lightweight hiking boots. Take the Keen Alamosa WP for example. Experts at Outdoor Gear Lab weighed a women's size 8 at 1.59 pounds, lighter than all but two shoes they've tested and just shy of our top pick, the Merrell Moab Ventilator, at 1.62 pounds. Several reviewers posting on REI report that the Merrells are light enough to wear all day without making feet feel weighed down. In reviews of the Salomon Synapse on Backcountry.com, consumers say they feel like they are walking on a cloud in these light hiking shoes.
Hiking shoes by nature tend to weigh less than higher-cut boots. A heavier boot may actually be a higher caliber boot able to accommodate more than just a day hike with a light backpack. That's not to say there aren't light hiking boots out there. Numerous reviews on Amazon note that Keen Targhee II Mid is plenty light enough for all-day wear.